Canada has done what Australia should and exempted menstrual products from the consumer tax.
Over the weekend, every Canadian political party – including that of Stephen Harper’s right-wing Conservative Party – voted to shield tampons, sanitary pads and other female hygiene products from their equivalent of the GST.
Australia’s states and territories should follow this example, or risk the backlash from rightfully angry female consumers.
It is unfair that a gender impost already levied by supermarkets, the employment market and society at large be inflicted by our governments as well.
Poor women are not ‘negligible’
In a recent piece for The New Daily, economist Jason Murphy argued, cogently but unpersuasively, for the so-called ‘tampon tax’.
The crux of his article was that people hate paying tax and will argue for any exemption they can. I agree.
But then Mr Murphy said wealthier women use the welfare of the poorest Australian women as a ‘reason after the fact’ to argue to ‘their own benefit’ for a tampon exemption.
That’s where he lost me. I do not pay this. I do not support it. Nor do I count its impact on homeless women as “negligible”, as he did.
There are currently more than 46,000 homeless women, Homelessness Australia has estimated. On up to 100 days a year, these poor women must buy (or suffer without) an expensive consumer item their homeless male counterparts do not need.
“Ten per cent might not seem like much to those on higher incomes, but for the homeless women of Australia it could actually make quite a difference,” Menstrual Hygiene Day strategic advisor Dr Dani Barrington told me.
If only to help these women, the ‘tampon tax’ should be repealed – in addition to the “more reasonable” levels of income support that Mr Murphy advocated.
Men win again
Aside from the homeless, the unfairness of the tax on female hygiene products is exposed by the law itself.
Under schedule 3 of the GST Act, it is possible for men who suffer from incontinence to avoid paying consumer tax on penile clamps – a contraption that prevents urination in men by squeezing shut the urethra.
From this we can only assume that the leakage of male urine is potentially worthy of concession, but the leakage of menstrual blood is not.
Even more curious is that women can receive acupuncture, herbal medicine and chiropractic services free of GST, but must always pay a monthly tax on their periods.
These treatments are criticised by some health professionals as unproven and even potentially harmful because of the low levels of training amongst some of their practitioners.
Unsterile acupuncture needles can spread disease; ill-trained chiropractors can harm the spine; high doses of some herbal medicines can be toxic.
And yet all of these can potentially be exempted, almost as if the government thought quackery was more deserving of exemption than the life-enabling secretions of a woman.
It is simply unfair
In his closing paragraphs, Mr Murphy concedes that he may be “out of step with community sentiment”.
I believe he is.
If Australian women, who endure glass ceilings, lower wages and lower levels of retirement savings, would like a small financial concession to acknowledge the inconvenience (or crippling pain) of menstruation, we males should happily concede the debate.
“How can women be expected to pay more for being a woman?” said my girlfriend when I asked for her thoughts on the matter.
I dare say, if male biology was similar somehow, man-pads would not only be GST-exempt, but dispensed for free from every street corner.
Jackson Stiles is The New Daily’s consumer affairs editor.